Seminar on Freedom of Speech

A seminar was organised on ‘Freedom of Speech, My Right’ in Kolkata on October 31 as part of the 50TH anniversary celebrations ofGanashakti, a Bengali daily published by the CPI(M) West Bengal state committee. Addressing the gathering, eminent intellectuals and activists stressed that the Leftists have a significant role to play in providing an alternative economic and social model, and consolidating a protest movement against growing fascistic attacks on democracy.

Senior journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta said that though it is widely believed that the press is the fourth estate which wields indirect but significant influence on the society without being a part of the political system, the situation in reality is vastly different. In our country, majority of the big media houses, whether electronic or print, are owned by a few corporate houses who determine what is to be fed to the public, in what quantity and how. These media houses make or create news which may be far away from the reality.

Activist Teesta Setalvad said that there is a very pronounced pro-fascist onslaught on the media. Thousands of crores are being spent in manufacturing propaganda material which is then bombarded on the unsuspecting multitude. But there are oases of hope combating these various and varied attacks on certain sections of the society and ruthless efforts to gag the voices of rationality. Protesting voices can be heard in various universities in the form of Rohit Vemulas and Kanhaiya Kumars. To curb these dissenting voices, the central government has through the University Grants Commission declared a new policy which shall drastically reduce the number of M.Phil and PhD seats available in all central and state universities. This is a sinister design to silence the voices of disagreement and resistance emanating from various educational institutions, she said.

While there is a naked endeavour to quieten the voices of reason such as M M Kalburgi, Govind Pansare, Narendra Dabholkar and Gauri Lankesh, there is an open show of solidarity and back-slapping for those who speak in the language of the rulers. An atmosphere of fear, trepidation and uncertainty prevails over the country. Setalvad said that amidst all the darkness swirling around us, there are small pockets of protests where students, farmers, the marginalised and Dalits are fighting for their rights. It is here that the Leftists have a significant role to play in providing an alternative economic and social model and in consolidating these sporadic incidents of rebellions and turning them into a protest movement against the present dispensation.

Megha Pansare, the daughter-in-law of Govind Pansare, gave a detailed account of how she, along with her team of fellow activists, continued the fight to seek justice for the murdered trio and the various programmes undertaken by them to keep alive their memories and spread the message of good works undertaken by Kalburgi, Pansare and Dabholkar.

Shamik Bandopadhay, an acclaimed film, theatre and art critic, summed up the event by saying that whether it is Fascism or any revolutionary movement, they cannot attain success if they are not linked with simultaneous cultural movement. To this end, the Sangh Parivar has launched a vicious campaign relating to castes, food habits and other cultural policing in order to instil a false sense of nationalism in the people and numb their sense against any voice of rationalism. 

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